Exodus 2 Study Notes
2:1-10 The story of how this unnamed baby was protected during dangerous and uncertain times adds to the suspense and indicates the child’s important future role. Its close-up depiction of Pharaoh’s oppression in one family helps communicate how all the Israelites needed deliverance. It also raises sympathy for the rescued infant and causes us to wonder what he will be like as both a child of slaves and the adopted son of a princess.
2:1 The genealogy of Aaron and Moses names Amram and Jochebed as the parents (6:20; Nm 26:59). Moses’s Levite heritage is appropriate, considering his later responsibilities in instituting national worship, since the tribe of Levi was set apart for priestly service (chaps. 28-29; Nm 1:47-54; 3:5-13; 8:5-26).
2:2 Readers in cultures that prize superficial attractiveness may wonder if the mother would have cared for the baby if he had been homely. Her reaction is probably better understood against a background of high infant mortality. The mother recognized that, except for the decree of Pharaoh, this baby would surely live and thrive. Also, the broadly positive adjective translated beautiful is often translated “good” and could describe such varied items as a calf (Gn 18:7), houses (Dt 8:12), a tree (2Kg 3:19), land (Ex 3:8), a method of operating (Ex 18:7), or what is morally right (Ps 14:1; 34:8). The combination of “saw” and “good” in Ex 2 echoes its use in Gn 1. Heb 11:23 refers to hiding this child as an exercise of faith by his parents. No doubt they were both involved, though the narrative focuses on what the mother and sister did.
2:4 His sister was Miriam (15:20; Nm 26:59). If a baby was found, people might look around for the mother, but a small girl would attract little attention and could report to her mother or, better yet, think quickly and offer the services of her mother.
2:5-6 The wording in Hebrew tracks the movements of Pharaoh’s daughter more closely than the English wording can easily do, helping reflect her important status.
2:7-9 At this time children were nursed for three or four years before being weaned.
2:10 During the New Kingdom era, Egypt would bring foreign boys to court to train them for service in Egyptian territories. The actions of Pharaoh’s daughter continue the undermining of his plans by women, though he considered daughters safe enough to let them live (1:16,22). Moses’s name had significance for both Egyptian and Hebrew hearers. In an Egyptian name like Thutmose, mose is related to an Egyptian verb meaning “bear, produce, bring forth” and a noun meaning “child,” while Thut/Thoth was a god; so “Thutmose” and similar names celebrated a connection between the birth of a child and an Egyptian god. Pharaoh’s daughter named Moses in a way that suited Egyptian naming patterns and commemorated her action in saving his life, celebrating his connection with her. The name calls to mind a verb meaning “draw out” (2Sm 22:17; Ps 18:16), which to Hebrew readers must have sounded appropriate for the person who led the Israelites out of Egypt. This child’s name seems more appropriate than Pharaoh or his daughter could have anticipated.
2:11-12 Despite having lived with privileges for nearly forty years in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses identified with the Israelites as his own people. Moses’s caution indicates that his action was deliberate. Struck translates the same root word as “striking” (v. 11) and “attacking” (v. 13). In other words, the Egyptian was striking a Hebrew man, a Hebrew man struck another Hebrew, and Moses struck the Egyptian but with a different outcome. Hid translates a word used sometimes in contexts involving burying something (Gn 35:4; Jos 2:6; 7:21); it is different from the word used in vv. 2 and 3 about Moses’s mother hiding him.
2:13-14 Moses expressed surprise that the two Hebrews were fighting. This incident is evidence that the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt exemplifies God’s loyalty and grace; it did not take place because they were all fine, deserving people.
2:15 The land of Midian included territory in modern Saudi Arabia, on the east of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Sinai Peninsula to the west would not have been far enough from Pharaoh to be safe, since Egypt had mining interests in the Sinai and it was under Egyptian military control. When he sat down by a well as a newcomer, Moses positioned himself to meet people, as had Abraham’s servant when he met Rebekah, and as Jacob had done when he met Rachel (Gn 24:11-14; 29:1-6).
2:16 The priest of Midian, the father of seven daughters, was called Reuel (v. 18; Nm 10:29), Hobab (Jdg 4:11), and most often Jethro (Ex 3:1; 4:18; 18:1-12). Other men with more than one name include Jacob (Gn 32:28; 46:2; 48:2; 49:2), Gideon (Jdg 7:1; 8:35), and Solomon (2Sm 12:24-25). Midianites were descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah (Gn 25:1-2). Because of this connection, perhaps Jethro led others in worship of the God of Abraham and Isaac, as did Melchizedek (Gn 14:18-20). The Midianites as a whole seem to have been nomadic desert dwellers who were later enemies of Israel (Gn 37:28,36; Nm 22:4,7; 25:1-18; 31:1-20; Jos 13:21; Jdg 6-8; 9:17; Ps 83:9; Is 9:4; 10:26; 60:6).
2:17-19 Again Moses came to the defense of someone, but this time it had nothing to do with the Israelites or their plight. He rescued several shepherd girls from what seems to have been a common annoyance, and they thought he was an Egyptian. Moses’s identity continued to be an issue.
2:20-22 Moses marrying a non-Israelite was apparently not a problem. The name Gershom reflected Moses’s status as an alien in both Egypt and Midian.
2:23-25 The word for groaning describes a man with broken arms in Ezk 30:24. Four different words for the Israelite outcry and four words for God’s response combine to make a weighty statement of desperation and response. The formality is enhanced in Hebrew by the unusual repetition of the word God as the subject of each verb in vv. 24-25, which also underscores God’s superiority and sovereignty: God heard . . . God remembered . . . God saw . . . and God knew. God’s remembering is more than mental awareness; it implies action in keeping with his covenant promises (Gn 8:1; 19:29; 30:22; Lv 26:42-45; Ps 105:8; 106:44-46; Jr 14:21; Am 1:9). The command to “remember” the Sabbath Day is parallel to the command to “keep” the Sabbath (Ex 20:8; Dt 5:12).
“Knew” (1:8; 5:2; 6:3,7; 7:5; 16:12; 18:11), like “remember,” typically involves more than awareness of information. Here it carries the thought of having regard for something or someone and of exercising personal concern (Ps 31:7; 37:18; 144:3; Hs 13:4). Because God knew their situation and took action, the Israelites and others would come to know him in a new way. This verse assumes that readers are familiar with the promises that God had made and confirmed by covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gn 12:1-3,7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 18:17-19; 21:12-13; 22:15-18; 28:3-4,10-22; 32:9-12; 35:9-15; 46:1-4; 48:3-4,15-16; 50:24-25).